The exodus of the silent refugees: an overview

Although this American Thinker article by Andrew G. Bostom was written in July 2007 at the time of the first ever US Congressional hearings on Jewish refugees from Arab countries, it provides a useful and comprehensive overview of the events leading up to their mass exodus, and right up to the present (with thanks: Lily):

Addressing the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly with regard to the proposed Partition Plan for Palestine (Resolution 181), on November 24, 1947, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha, a “well-known liberal” threatened,

The United Nations…should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Muslim countries.

The Baghdad pogrom (the “Farhud”) of June,1941— fomented by Hajj Amin el-Husseini, during his WW II sojourn in Iraq — was followed by three outbursts of anti-Jewish violence in November, 1945 in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Baghdad (1941) and Libya (Tripolitania, 1945) experienced major pogroms: hundreds of Jews were killed and thousands wounded, accompanied by widespread devastation to Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses. During the Farhud, Stillman maintains 179 Jews (including women and children) were murdered, 242 children orphaned, 586 businesses looted, and 911 buildings housing 12,000 individuals were pillaged. Estimates for property damage ranged from 680,000 to 2,700,000 pounds. (…)

Elie Kedourie has written that 600 Jews were murdered during the May, 1941 Baghdad Farhud, (in support of (the author Naim) Kattan’s implication that many more than 300 had been killed), noting, the figure of 600 “…is the official figure which was kept confidential at the time.”

Recurrent anti-Zionist/Antisemitic incitement from 1943 to 1945 culminated in a series of anti-Jewish riots during November of 1945. Egypt was the sight of the first of these riots — in both Cairo and Alexandra — fomented by Islamic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Young Men’s Muslim Association. Hundreds were injured during the rioting and looting of some 110 Jewish businesses in Cairo, while the disturbances in Alexandria claimed the lives of 5 Jews. Thomas Mayer has observed, “the critics of the riots did nothing to prevent the distribution of anti-Jewish propaganda in Egypt,” and “the Egyptian Jews continued to be harassed by Pan-Arab and Islamic societies, as well as by Government officials, and pressed to make anti-Zionist declarations.” Thus in the aftermath of the riots, neither the Egyptian Chief Rabbi’s protestations of loyalty, nor the expressions of regret and sympathy by Egyptian government officials could restore Egyptian Jewry’s sense of security, as the general atmosphere of hostility towards Jews remained unchanged.

One day after the rioting in Egypt subsided much more extensive and devastating anti-Jewish violence erupted in Libya. A minor altercation between Arabs and Jews near the electric power station outside the Jewish quarter of Tripoli was followed the next day (November 5th) by an anti-Jewish pogrom.

The historian (Norman) Stillman assessed the toll of the pogrom in lives and property, as well as its psychosocial impact:

When the pogroms — for that is what the riots essentially were — were over, 130 Jews were dead, including thirty-six children. Some entire families were wiped out. Hundreds were injured, and approximately 4,000 people were left homeless. An additional 4,200 were reduced to poverty. There were many instances of rape, especially in the provincial town of Qusabat, where many individuals embraced Islam to save themselves. Nine synagogues — five in Tripoli, four in the provincial towns-had been desecrated and destroyed. More than 1,000 residential buildings and businesses had been plundered in Tripoli alone. Damage claims totaled more than one quarter of a billion lire (over half a million pounds sterling). The Tripolitanian pogroms dealt, in the words one one observer [Haim Abravanel, director of Alliance schools in Tripoli], “an unprecedented blow…to the Jews’ sense of security.Many leading Arab notables condemned the atrocities, but as the British Military Administration’s Annual Report for 1945 noted, “no general, deep-felt sense of guilt seems to animate the Arab community at large; nor has it been too active in offering help to the victims.”

Minor anti-Jewish violence also occurred on November 18, 1945 in Syria (coinciding with the Muslim holiday al-Id al-Kabir, the culmination of the hajj (pilgrimage) rites at Mina, Saudi Arabia), when “…a mob broke into the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, smashed votive objects, burned prayer books, and beat up two elderly men who were studying there.”

Shortly after Heykal Pasha’s November 24, 1947 speech and the November 29, 1947 U.N. vote which adopted the “Partition Plan” for Palestine, demonstrations were held (December 2nd to 5th) throughout the Arab Muslim world to protest the U.N. decision. These demonstrations sparked anti-Jewish violence in Bahrain, Aleppo, and the British protectorate of Aden. The riots in Aleppo and Aden were severe — many Jews were killed, significant physical devastation occurred, and roughly half of Aleppo’s Jewish population fled.

Such violent anti-Jewish outbursts following the November 1947 U.N. vote to partition Palestine further demoralized Jews living in eastern Arab countries whose confidence had already been shaken by the 1941 Baghdad Farhud, and the 1945 riots in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. The steady re-emergence of Islamic (or its corollary “Arab”) national identity in these countries also subjected the Jews to chronic discrimination in employment.

The ongoing isolation and alienation of Jews from the larger Arab Muslim societies in which they lived accelerated considerably after the establishment of Israel on May 15, 1948, and the immediate war on the nascent Jewish state declared and waged by members of the Arab League. A rapid annihilation of Israel and its Jewish population was predicted and savored by Arab leaders such as Azzam Pasha, the secretary of the Arab League, who declared:

[T]his will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the crusades

Such widely held expectations may have subdued violent mob reactions of the Arab masses against Middle Eastern and North African Jews at the outset of the war. However, once the Arab offensive in Palestine experienced setbacks, several weeks after the war began, anti-Jewish violence erupted in Morocco and Libya. On June 7 and 8 in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada, 42 Jews were killed and roughly 150 injured, many of them seriously, while scores of homes and shops were sacked. One day after the first truce was declared between the Israeli and Arab forces in Palestine, on June 12th, Muslim mobs attacked the Jewish Quarter in Tripoli, Libya, and upon being repelled by Jewish self-defense units-which had been organized there as in other cities that had suffered pogroms in recent years-turned upon undefended neighborhoods outside Hara, murdering thirteen or fourteen Jews, seriously injuring 22, causing extensive property damage, and leaving approximately 300 families destitute. Jews in the surrounding countryside and in Benghazi were subjected to additional attacks.

These events were followed by a series of violent disturbances in Egypt, despite a second truce in Palestine declared on July 18, 1948. During the next three month period Egyptian Jewry was under siege, as bombs destroyed Jewish-owned movie theaters and large retail businesses, including the Adès, Gategno, and Benzion establishments. Overall, these attacks on the Jews of Egypt claimed approximately 50 lives in the summer of 1948, accompanied by enormous property losses. Hundred were left injured, homeless, and unemployed.

The signing of Arab-Israeli armistice agreements in the spring and summer of 1949 rekindled a cautious optimism among many upper, and some middle class Egyptian, Iraqi, and Syrian Jews. This optimism quickly faded for the Jews of Syria and Iraq, lasted perhaps until the 1956 Suez War among Egyptian Jews, and never existed for Libyan or Yemenite Jewry. French disengagement from colonial rule in North Africa between 1954 and 1962 created anxiety in the Jewish populations of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.

These tensions and fears are mirrored in the waves of mass exodus of Jews: almost immediately and completely for the Jews of Libya and Yemen (between 1949 and 1951); a slightly delayed mass exodus of Iraqi Jews by the end of 1951 (after which only 6,000 remained out of ~ 140,000, circa 1945); the rapid attrition of Syria’s population, “…of mass proportions in relation to the smallness of the community”, by 1953; the flight of 60% of Egyptian Jewry within 12 months after the 1956 war, despite being required to abandon almost all their assets except for some items of clothing; a dramatic rise in Jewish emigration from Morocco and Tunisia in anticipation of their independence from France, which continued steadily once independence was achieved; and a precipitous and nearly complete exodus of Algerian Jewry in anticipation of Algerian independence, July 1962.

The “best case” scenarios of Morocco and Tunisia may be most instructive. Muhammad V (of Morocco) and Habib Bourguiba (of Tunisia) — relatively progressive leaders — each initially appointed a Jew to their respective cabinets, and allotted Jews positions within their government bureaucracies. A Muslim-Jewish group promoting interfaith understanding named al-Wifaq (Entente) was even created in Morocco within the (nationalist) Istiqlal party. Despite these “goodwill gestures”, no sustained policies were implemented to combat anti-Jewish discrimination, and the exodus of Jews continued apace. Stillman summarizes these failed efforts:

Neither Jewish minister survived the first reshuffling of their respective cabinets. More significantly, no Jew was appointed again to a ministerial post in either Morocco or Tunisia. The proponents of intercommunal entente made little impression on the Jewish and Muslim masses from whom they were totally removed. The cordiality shown to Jews in some of the highest echelons of government did not percolate down to the lower ranks of officialdom, which exhibited attitudes that ranged from traditional contempt to outright hostility. The natural progression in both countries toward increased identification with the rest of the Arab world (first Morocco, then Tunisia entered the Arab League in 1958) only widened the gulf between Muslims and Jews. Furthermore, government steps to reduce Jewish communal autonomy, such as Tunisian Law No. 58-78 of July 11, 1958, which dissolved the Jewish Communal Council of Tunis and replaced it with the Provisional Commission for the Oversight of Jewish Religious Matters, having far more circumscribed authority, had negative psychological consequences for Jews, who saw their traditional structures under siege. The official pressure on Jewish educational institutions for arabization and cultural conformity only succeeded in feeding the Jews’ worst fears, rather than fostering integration.

The ongoing steady departure of Jews from Tunisia picked up momentum following violent clashes between the French and Tunisian governments in 1961 (during which “Jews” were accused of disloyalty in the Tunisian press) over the naval base at Bizerte. Widespread anti-Jewish riots in Tunis on June 5, 1967 during the Six-Day War reduced Tunisian Jewry to a small remnant population within a year.

Despite the prohibition of mass legal emigration from Morocco in 1956, organized clandestine efforts by the Israeli Mossad continued throughout the remainder of the decade and into the early 1960s. Even during the four years following the dissolution of Cadima [the local Moroccan Zionist organization ordered to “dissolve itself” in 1956] and the imposition of the ban on aliya activities, almost 18,000 Moroccan Jews were spirited out of the country, as Moroccan officials frequently ignored this underground exodus. However during the premiership of Abd Allah Ibrahim (December 1958 to May 1960), who represented the radical wing of the Istiqlal party, there was a serious effort to clamp down on illegal movement, and a special emigration section was established in the police department that made numerous arrests of Jews attempting or even suspected of planning illegal emigration.

Muhammad V reversed the ban on Jewish emigration just prior to his sudden death in February 1961, motivated by pragmatic considerations, including the negative international publicity generated by the drowning of 44 Jews, whose small boat, the Pisces, foundered off the northern Moroccan coast on the night of January 10, 1961, while the passengers were attempting to flee the country.

Once mass emigration was allowed to resume, within three years 70,000 Jews left Morocco. In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of his fellow Muslims toward their Jewish neighbors:

The worst insult that one Moroccan can make to another is to call him a Jew….My childhood friends have remained anti-Jewish. They mask their virulent antisemitism by maintaining that the State of Israel was the creation of Western imperialism. My Communist comrades have fallen into this trap. Not a single issue of the Communist press denounces either the Antisemitism of the Moroccans or that of their government …And the integral Hitlerite myth is cultivated among the popular classes. Hitler’s massacre of the Jews was acclaimed with delight. It is even believed that Hitler is not dead, but very much alive. And his arrival is awaited — like that of the Imam el Mahdi — to deliver the Arabs from Israel.

Moroccan Muslim attitudes such as these, likely exacerbated by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, may have contributed to the steady decline of Morocco’s Jewish population throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Nearly a quarter million Jews lived in Morocco (almost 300,000 including Tangier) after World War II. By the early 1970s that number had dropped dramatically to 25,000. With continued attrition, less than 4,000 Jews remain in Morocco at present.

David Littman recently summarized the remarkable demographic decline of all the populations of Jews living in Muslim countries, especially the Arab nations, since 1945:

In 1945 about 140,000 Jews lived in Iraq; 60,000 in Yemen and Aden; 35,000 in Syria; 5,000 in Lebanon; 90,000 in Egypt; 40,000 in Libya; 150,000 in Algeria; 120,000 in Tunisia; 300,000 in Morocco, including Tangier-a total of roughly 940,000 (and approximately 200,000 more in Iran and Turkey). Of these indigenous communities, less than 50,000 Jews remain today — and in the Arab world, their number is barely 5,000-0.5% of the overall total at the end of the Second World War.

The Jews of Arab Muslim lands have been reduced to (an exceedingly) “small, vestigial and moribund remnant.”, as Stillman has observed. Devoid of political and economic power (or even aspirations) — unseen, unheard, and certainly unarmed — they are the ideal dhimmis, worthy of the benevolent and tolerant treatment ostensibly afforded them in the idyllic era before European colonization, as described in this October 1991 address to the U.N. General Assembly by then Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk Shara:

For hundreds of years Jews have lived amidst Muslim Arabs without suffering. On the contrary they have been greatly respected.

At the outset of Hafez al-Assad’s accession to power in the early 1970s, these were the conditions under which Syrian Jews lived:

Jews were required to live in ghettos and not permitted to travel more than 3 or 4 kilometers from their homes. (By contrast 500,000 Muslims visited Lebanon in 1971 alone.) Anyone attempting to flee the country could be jailed and tortured for three months or more. Jews were required to carry identity cards with the word Mussawi (follower of Moses) broadly scrawled in red ink. In Al-Qamishli, Jewish homes and stores were required to bear a red sign (the color connoting uncleanliness). Under a law drafted February 8, 1967, all government employees and members of the Syrian armed forces were barred from trading with any Jewish establishment in Syria. A list of boycotted businesses was supplied by the government. In some instrances, Jews were barred from making food purchases themselves and had to rely on Syrian friends to keep them from starving. Jews could not own or drive automobiles or have telephones.

Jews could not serve in the Syrian armed forces, but had to pay $600 to secure exemption certificates. Jews could not sell property. In the event of death or illegal emigration, property was transferred to the state, which disposed of it either through sale or grant to Palestinians. Mmebers of saiqa, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) faction favored by the Syrians, openly strutted through the streets of Damascus ghetto, intimidating people with arms and beatings. Al Fatah also maintained an office in this ghetto where in one week in 1971 seven Jewish homes were torched.(..)In a land where annual per capita income is less than $1,000, the Muhabarat [Syrian Secret Police] still require a deposit of $5,000 or $6,000 for any Jew temporarily leaving the country.

The plight of Syrian Jewry notwithstanding, vestigial Jewish populations in Muslim countries far removed from the battlegrounds of the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to be targeted with attacks — recent examples being the jihadist bombings of the ancient al-Ghariba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia on April 11, 2002 (which killed 21, and seriously wounded many others, most being elderly German tourists), as well as the simultaneous jihadist bombings of two Istanbul synagogues in November 2003. And during January 2007, even the infinitesimal remnant population of Yemenite Jews (some 200 or less) living in the province of Sa’ada, was under duress. Reports indicated that these Jews were being forced to make apparent jizya payments, had been falsely accused of selling wine to Muslims, and were threatened with killings, abductions, and lootings. A letter delivered to the Jewish communal leader, believed to have been composed by disciples of the Yemenite Shi’ite cleric Hossein Bader a-Din al Khouty, stated:

Islam calls upon us to fight against the disseminators of decay…After accurate surveillance over the Jews [in Sa’ada province]…it has become clear to us that they were doing things which serve mainly global Zionism, which seeks to corrupt the people and distance them from their principles, their values, their morals, and their religion.

Today’s (7/19/07) CHRC hearings provide a unique window on the legacy of dhimmitude and Islamic antisemitism which caused the tragic exodus of some 900,000 Jews from the Arab (and non-Arab Muslim) nations, liquidating most of these ancient communities. But the occasion of these hearings should also serve as a clarion reminder that this is a living legacy for those vestigial remnant Jewish populations still living within the Arab Muslim world, as well as the larger populations of Jews in both non-Arab Iran (in particular), and even Turkey. Finally, it must be acknowledged that this same animus — born of general anti-dhimmi attitudes and specific Islamic antisemitism — has reached genocidal proportions when directed at the Jews of Israel, nearly half of whom are Oriental Jewish refugees and their descendants.

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